15 December 2014
7339th Meeting (AM)

Special Coordinator for Middle East Tells Security Council ‘Gaza Can Go Both Ways’, with Potential for Another Implosion if Critical Issues Not Resolved

After a “dramatic year” that saw both hope for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and a devastating war in Gaza, it was critical for the Security Council to work towards an effective framework for progress, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process told that body this morning. 

“Now is the time to deescalate and refrain from provocative steps, re-build trust and set conditions for a return to negotiations that will resolve this conflict,” Robert Serry said in the regular monthly briefing that focuses on the Israeli-Palestinian issues but also touches on the situations in Syria and Lebanon.

“Making headway in at least salvaging prospects for resolving the conflict will require the active role of the international community,” he added, noting that “Israelis and Palestinians still demand an end to the conflict despite their strong malaise on the peace process itself”.

Noting legislative action in Europe towards recognizing a Palestinian State as well as the agreement by the League of Arab States to present to the Council a draft resolution setting a timeframe for its creation, he said those actions were important but not a substitute for a genuine peace process recognized by both parties. 

In that context, he conveyed the Secretary-General’s hopes that the 15-member body would generate momentum towards a meaningful and constructive framework for renewed negotiations.  “Such a move by the Security Council would constitute a major step on this conflict since the adoption of Security Council resolution 242 (1967), almost 50 years ago,” he said.

He said that what he called a “deadly diplomatic vacuum”, due to the collapse of the ruling coalition in Israel and the scheduling of early elections for 17 March 2015, was no excuse for either side to let the present situation worsen, as conditions on the ground remained explosive. 

On the West Bank, he expressed concern that the violence had assumed a more religious character, citing the November killings of five Israelis in a Jerusalem synagogue, condemnations of which he reiterated, and stressing that the Secretary-General rejected any attempts to honour those who carried out such crimes.

In the past month, he said, a Jewish-Arab school in Jerusalem had been vandalized, and overall 633 Palestinians had been injured and 406 more had been arrested during the reporting period.  Israel had suffered injuries to nine soldiers and 20 settlers in clashes.  On the death this past week of Palestinian Minister Ziad Abu Ein after confrontations during a demonstration, the Council, he noted, had encouraged the parties to ensure a swift and transparent investigation. 

Welcoming constructive steps to de-escalate tensions around Jerusalem’s holy sites, he expressed renewed concern, however, over Israel’s resumption of punitive demolitions, noting the demolition of a Palestinian home after the individual had driven a car into a light rail station, killing two.  Calling it a “form of collective penalty”, he said that contravened international law and risked undermining an already fragile situation.

In Gaza, he reported a significant scale-up of delivery of construction material in the past two weeks via the temporary Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, although he emphasized that the mechanism was not a substitute for the lifting of all closures.  Trade between Gaza and the West Bank had been re-established, but remained well below the potential volume.

As the humanitarian situation in Gaza remained fragile, he stressed the priorities of affordable energy, sufficient water and accelerated reconstruction, while addressing reasonable Israeli security concerns.  International engagement was critical in those endeavours, with funding still required, but the current reality on the ground must also be addressed with urgency. 

In that context, he pointed to the fact that the ceasefire with Israel had still not been solidified; the Government of National Consensus had still not taken up its rightful functions; and civil service reform was urgently required.  The Rafah crossing to Egypt also remained closed.

If such challenges were not addressed, he warned, tensions could only worsen.  Recent incidents included a Palestinian shot in Gaza by Israeli forces, the test firing of rockets by militants and the bombing of the French Cultural Centre, along with reports that “extremist elements” were seeking to gain a foothold in Gaza.  He stressed that, pending transfer of security responsibilities to the Government of National Consensus, Hamas must be held responsible for the safety of United Nations and all international staff in Gaza.

“I must warn that Gaza can go both ways,” he said, pointing to both opportunities and fears that another implosion could occur if critical issues remained unresolved.

Briefly turning to Syria, he reported on Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura’s efforts to bring about a “freeze” of the conflict in the city of Aleppo, intended as a building block towards an inclusive national political process without preconditions.  He said the situation on the Golan remained volatile, with clashes and fly-overs in the areas of separation and limitation. 

On Lebanon, he noted United Nations support for response to the refugee presence.  He condemned deadly attacks on the Lebanese Armed Forces by militants near the Syria border, with 25 Lebanese security personnel still held hostage by extremist groups.  He welcomed preparations announced by legislators for dialogue between Hizbullah and the Future Movement, expressing hope that would ease tensions and help resolve the seven-month-long vacuum in the presidency, among other issues.

The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and ended at 10:26 a.m.

For information media. Not an official record.